Adios Nicaragua!

Overall my trip to Nicaragua was truly a life changing experience, one that I suggest every experience if given the opportunity. Most of what I’ve discussed in my entries has made Nicaragua sound like a well developed place to live but that is not at all the case.

Things aren’t always sweet in Nicaragua. The informal economy makes it so that people can survive but this does not mean that they’re thriving and most of those who do have legitimate jobs still make less than some of the poorest Americans.


In my opinion one of the biggest problems in Nicaragua is the lack of government support for companies and organizations. All of the organizations and agencies that we attended had great ideas and implemented everything that they could but without government support and funding, being completely successful can be a challenge. My trip to Nicaragua was one that taught me more than I ever expected to learn. I now understand that I am extremely privileged and that I should be using my privilege to help others succeed. The biggest example of this was at the Children’s hospital. Seeing how underdeveloped the facilities were made me sad yet motivated to help the people of Nicaragua.

This study abroad trip wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the guidance and support of Ruth, Cesar, the CGE house, and Hector (our amazing driver). I hope they all know how truly thankful I am for them taking this journey with us.


But while everything is not great in Nicaragua, Antonio from Casa de la Sonrisas said it best: In Nicaragua you will see a lot of poverty and in the United States you will see a lot of misery.

Just because times are tough for the people of Nicaragua, they always find a way and never lose sight of what matters.


Thank you for everything Nicaragua

Love Always,


Adios! Final Reflection and Remarks

Since returning late Sunday morning (due to weather-related issues), I had a lot of time to reflect on the past 2 weeks and all that occurred in addition to all that I learned while being in Nicaragua. I can’t help, but to have mixed emotions. I’m filled with gratitude for being able to experience such an amazing culture and motivation to take back what I learned from the NGOs and institutions we visited to the United States and be the change I want to see in the world. I am filled with hurt and disgust at what  the United States was involved in which affected the Nicaraguan people gravely.

It is hard to go to a “3rd world” country to learn from the people and their history, when the people have nothing, but negative things to say about the horrific history the two countries share. Even with the negative history that the US shares with Nicaragua, the people welcomes us with open arms. They were delighted to discuss their history and the current issues that they face. We shared ideas, viewpoints, hugs, pictures, and history. Through these things we were able to learn from one another on the same ground level and that was an amazing experience. I am more humble and appreciative of the freedoms we have in the US since returning home.


Over the last 2 weeks we visited Managua, Leon, Massaya, Granada, and Matagalpa. Visiting all 4 Departments in Nicaragua, not only gave us different perspectives of the Nicaraguan history as well as current social issues, but it also gave us a sense of community and culture. It was a phenomenal feeling to be apart of such an amazing and deep culture. I felt the pain, the sadness, the happiness, the motivation and the pride in their voices when they told their stories. I felt the dedication that they had to their particular cause and the community they were serving.

One thing that was common in the organizations we visited is that they have NEVER received government funding from the current administration which has been in power for about the last 15 years. This saddened me, but surprised me at the same time. ALL of the organizations and institutions we visited were doing amazing work and for them to not have any government funding is mind boggling to me. Not only did that impress me, but it also motivated me to learn how they do it, and take that information back to the non-profits I work with and implement that. There is something amazing about the fight and drive that people in “3rd world” countries have. This is certainly something that all “1st world” countries can learn from.

As you can tell this was a very educational, inspirational and amazing study abroad trip to Nicaragua, Central America. Even through some difficulties along the way, I am humbled by the experience and all of the Nicaraguan and Central America people I crossed paths with.

Lastly, thank you to Ausburg College and Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE) for awarding me the Mary Witt Scholarship. Without that scholarship, this trip would not have happened for me. Thank you so very much!


Heavy Hitters

Here I would like to talk a bit about the three organizations that I enjoyed visiting the most. While every single one we have visited is doing amazing things for the people of Nicaragua, these are the ones that stuck out the most to me.


The first one I want to talk about is Los Pepitos. They offer many resources to parents of children who have disabilities. They provide things like hearing tests, hearing aids, therapies of all sorts, consultations, and training for their parents learn to help rehabilitate their children. Their goal is to help people with disabilities fully participate in their communities and to live a life of dignity.

The next is Casa Alianza. They offer housing for homeless or high risk youth from the ages of 13 to 17 years old. Service workers go to high risk areas and they identify where kids are living on the streets. Many are addicted to drugs. Then they each out to those kids to get them to the right program. Interviews are done by the outreach team. When it is decided that they fit this program, they go into adaptation. Next is the levels. Integration is 3 months of helping their emotional stability. Next is acknowledgement, where they can go back to school and do internships. They work on developing their own skills. Next is social reintegration.


The last organization that I want to talk about is CENIDH. They told us about how there is much corruption in the police systems. A kid and a baby were killed, and it wasn’t investigated. CENIDH looked into it and found that much of the police report was incorrect, like their age and cause of death. CENIDH is fighting to do the things that the government won’t, help the people. The government is against CENIDH and does whatever they can to discourage people from going to them for investigations. This was my favorite organization, because they are actively going against their government to make everything better for the citizens, which I believe more people need to see and do in Nicaragua.


Ricky Galvan


Final Days


The last week has gone by so fast and we have learned so much; so, I’ll only touch on a few.

While in Granada, we visited Cafe de las Sonrisas which is a project that woks with young people who are deaf and blind. Their main focus is to create jobs for these young people and teach them skills relating to restaurant duties and making hammocks. During lunch, they also did an activity with us where we had to put in ear plugs and live in their world while we ate – it was a really neat experience!

We also visited a local school when we went to Matagalpa where the children learned a song and dance for us. At the end they wanted to hear us sing.. The only thing we could think of was Carmen Ohio! So that’s exactly what they got to hear.

Following that, we had a tour of the coffee farm and were able to make tea and tortillas with some women in the community which was a lot of fun and a really neat learning experience! (The food they made us was also fantastic I might add)

later in the week we visited Los Pipitos which is an organization of parents, relatives, etc of children with disabilities that all come together. They work on the children’s development, community life, and also improve their rights. They offer services from hearing tests to water therapy and much more. They make a big emphasis on the family being involved and taking part in their child’s development process.

One of the main takeaways I have taken from this journey is just how family-oriented this country is. A lot of times we would ask speakers “well what happens if they family doesn’t X, Y, or Z?” And a lot of times they did not really have answers to those questions because families always came through. Whether it be to donate a kidney or for a place to stay. Thank you Nicaragua for everything you have taught me! Hopefully we will see each other again soon.


Casa Materna

On May 29th, I got the opportunity to visit my dream job. Well not exactly, but the Casa Materna house was founded in the 90s. To this current day, there’s been over 16,000 women that have been helped through their services. The main idea here is to provide and supply resources for pregnant women before and after their labor. Many women turned to the Casa Materna House in need of a place to stay. While at this program, we learned that many of the women that come through here would be what is considered “high risked” due to being pregnant with twins or having previous C-sections. We discovered that mothers here face more risks when having twins and this is due to the complication of one twin being in the correct position (when it’s time to push ) while the other twin is not. We also discovered that teenagers are at high risk as well due to their bodies not being fully mature. Also, when referring back to high risks due to C-sections, we learned that mothers that have had nearly 8-10 children typically have a much loser uterus. Therefore when it is time to push, their muscles aren’t as strong.


This casa maternal house is a private practice and not a part of government. Casa Materna offers services that are include pre natural care, exercise, etc. It is recommended through the casa house that the mothers come here a week before their due dates. Midwives are also a part of this program and help provide services for the mothers. Women here would rather have a mid-wife than a doctor. We were told that mid wives are more loving, caring, and considerate with the mothers here, compared to doctors. We also learned that all the services here free. This amazing visit has encouraged me to expand my research and knowledge on the rates upon pregnant women in the US who face finical issues when it comes to health care and their babies. This visit has inspired me to open up my own practice that to can provide the services for all pregnant women for free.

Student, Beyla Hood

Granada (continued) and Matagalpa

After spending much needed time at Cafe de la Sonrisas learning how to make a hammock, enjoying a delicious lunch, and doing a little sign language we headed on to the Lagoon! The remainder of the day was spent relaxing by the water and then exploring Granada which is clearly a tourist area (never expected to hear so much English in Latin America).

The next morning we met a potter and indigenous leader in a small community called San Juan de Oriente. Here we learned how to make pottery in a traditional way. The clay is pressed out by dancing on it, the brushes used for painting are made using the hair of women from the community, and everything else used from the rocks for polishing to the colors for decorating came from the earth.

While the process of making the pottery is long (and a little tedious), the incorporation of tradition, culture, and spirituality makes it all worth it.

That evening we continued on to the Mountainous region Matagalpa. This area is about the size of Frankfort, Ohio with one stoplight and is extremely country. Not the rural experience that we’re used to in the states as it is very poor but definitely the country.

The view from the hotel is gorgeous but there’s little wifi and it’s close to impossible to walk down the large hill to “town”.

Despite the secluded hotel situation, Matagalpa taught me a lot. Most importantly to be thankful for everything I have.

While traveling to the coffee farm I watched children swing on makeshift swings made out of rope and wood. The drive there was 100 times worse than driving down 772 in Ross County or through the mountains of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee as we traveled on a long, winding dirt path.

Next we went to the community school which confirmed that I need to work with children for the rest of my life. The area was very impoverished but the children were so happy and full of life. Second to children, my biggest joy in life comes from coffee!

Directly next to the school is a coffee cooperative. The speaker spoke about social projects taking place for the community such as the rural community tourism which provides accommodations to families, lunch, and bird watching. After learning about the community we got to dive into the culture!

We explored the coffee farm (jungle), made tortillas, engaged in a traditional dance, and learned about natural medicines while making and tasting syrup made for curing colds.

– Lauren

Granada- Cafe de la Sonrisas

After departing from Managua we traveled on to Masaya where we visited an active volcano and from there we continued on to Granada where we sat down with the owner, founder, and operator of Cafe de la Sonrisas or ‘Smiles Coffee’. Antonio spoke to us about moving from Spain to Latin America in hopes of opening a restaurant in Costa Rica. Along the way he ended up in Nicaragua cooking for adolescents and young adults with physical disabilities.

The blind and deaf children as well as other at risk youth could not get jobs so Antonio decided to open a shop for making hammocks and taught the children how to make hammocks (it’s a large tourist attraction).

He also opened a restaurant attached to the facility. This restaurant is only open until 3:00pm so that mothers do not worry about their children with disabilities. In order for the deaf workers to wait tables Antonio came up with a system which uses pictures in the menu to allow workers and customers to work together.

From there Antonio began to start other service projects such as allowing breast feeding mothers to come to the restaurant and breast feed their babies while enjoying a drink for free.

The work Antonio is doing is the work that could make the world a much better place.

A basic human right is to have the right to fully develop.

León Homestay

León Homestay

After meeting with the students at the university, we went back to the homes that we would be living in for the next 2 days. Amanda and I were extremely blessed in being placed with Papa Juan and Mama Ruth. They have 3 daughters and now 2 bonus daughters (Amanda and me). We were immediately greeted with open arms and dove right into the Nicaraguan culture.

I felt right at home during my stay with the family. On the first night Juan and Ruth did not get home until late so we went out for pizza and then a late run to the ATM and supermarket to make sure we had everything for the next day.

The next morning after eating breakfast with our families we were rushed out the door to start our day! Papa Juan and Mama Ruth had to work so they dropped us off at Tia Sandra’s (Aunt Sandra’s) and we were on our way. Our first stop of the day was to La Casona where we met with the Police Department in León who works with preventing  . This is done by bringing inmates in to help run the facility after being reinstated into society.

Our second stop was to meet with 2 individuals about community human rights. Here we went into detail about community human rights. The idea of the center is to oversee the different things taking place in Latin America from Motorcycle accidents to human trafficking and sexual violence.

The next stop was to a museum which was originally a prison. This museum gave us very important cultural history including the reasons behind many of the superstitions in León as well as the traditional dances and more.

Our final educational stop of the day was to the Cathedral and downtown León where we were able to explore and learn more of the area’s history. We explored the top of the Cathedral for at least 30 minutes in the blazing sun but with the help of Tia Sandra I learned so much.

Seeing how religious León was became very appealing to me as we counted 1, 2, 3…. muchos (many) churches from the top of the Cathedral. Each building beautifully built.

That evening we were able to spend time with all of our families as a unit as we went out dancing and seeing the nightlife of León. Leaving the next morning was a painful goodbye but thanks to social media, pictures, and a special letter from mi hermana (my sister) Natalie, my family in León will always have a special place in my heart.

-Lauren Hitchens


Upon arrival in León we were greeted by Don Juan who would later be known as “Papa Juan” by Amanda and myself. Don Juan and Profesora Ruth both work in the social work department at the University of León.

Our first stop was to the University of León where a few students gave a presentation about human rights in Nicaragua and talked about what it means to be a social worker here.

After the amazing presentation we broke up into 2 groups for a question and answer session. Ricky and I sat down with 18 social work students from the University of León and told them about our experiences in the U.S. as both college students and minorities. The students asked us a lot of good questions but along the way I learned more from them than I ever imagined.


After explaining why I chose social work as a career I asked 2 individuals why they chose social work and understood that while their are similarities in the profession, there are also huge differences.

One young man stated that he wanted to get rid of the stigma of being a social worker by his family and family friends which consist of doctors and lawyers. He also mentioned wanting to find acceptance for LGTBQ individuals.


Another young man stated that he was from the countryside and that things are still very traditional there. He was raised to help others by his father but in a way that was very old school. This meant that if someone got into a altercation they would have to sit in front of a community of elders and from there the elders would determine that punishment and/severity of the offense.

In addition there are a lot of situations which need mediated in his community and because of his age and personality he is often asked to be the mediator. This young man decided to be a social worker so that he can legally and ethically help his people by counseling them and also finding justice.




Indigenous Pottery in San Juan


This past Sunday, we visited San Juan, Nicaragua. We discovered that San Juan was one of many indigenous towns here in Nicaragua. In San Juan, we had the opportunity to speak with an indigenous leader, Valentin Lopez. Lopez introduced us to some of the important culture traditions that included what we would call back home, pottery. Lopez also explained to us how the indigenous clay is still located in the town of San Juan and eventually demonstrated the process on how to break down the clay and create pottery with it. Most people begin working with clay at the age of 8. We learned that Lopez has been working with clay for 20 years. The first step within the process is something that I found to be obvious which happened to be using tools to break down the clay. Although this was an obvious first step, there was something surprising about the kind of tools that were used for this process. According to Lopez, it is our own feet that is considered the tool to break down the clay. Lopez explained that we “dance” on the clay with our feet to break it down. The next step includes a kick-wheel like machine that breaks down the clay even more. After the clay goes through the entire break down process, it is ready to be created into different pottery pieces. This tradition runs through many families in San Juan. Lopez explained to us that beginners take up to 2 hours or more with this entire process where as to those with experience can take up to 5-10 minutes. It took Lopez around 8 minutes to show us the entire process from start to finish.

Student, Beyla Hood.